Thursday, October 28, 2021

Taylor Mayor Rick Sollars accused of taking cash, lottery tickets in bribery scheme

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Federal prosecutors leveled new allegations Tuesday against Taylor Mayor Rick Sollars, accusing him of cashing campaign checks at a party store in exchange for cash and scratch-off lottery tickets while corrupting a city foreclosed property program.

The allegations were contained in a new criminal case against an alleged co-conspirator as prosecutors signaled that at least two people are expected to plead guilty in connection with the high-profile public corruption case.

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Downriver real estate mogul Shady Awad, who is accused of bribing Sollars with free wood floors and a deck at his lake house, is scheduled to plead guilty later this month, according to a notice filed in court.

Awad, 41, of Allen Park has a plea hearing Oct. 22, almost two years after he was charged alongside Sollars in an alleged conspiracy involving bribes, luxury items and tax-foreclosed properties, as well as Jeffrey Baum, the Taylor community development manager.

Details of Awad’s upcoming plea were not available, and it was unclear whether he will cooperate against Sollars and Baum.

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“Many of these allegations have been raised before,” said Sollars’ lawyer, Todd Flood, on Tuesday. “We’ll try this case in the courtroom, not in the press, and we stand by Rick’s innocence.”

There was no immediate comment from federal prosecutors Tuesday. Awad’s lawyer, David DuMouchel, and Baum’s lawyer, Mike Rataj, declined comment.

Sollars and Baum have been awaiting a January trial in a case that has stalled amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The investigation emerged in early 2019 when FBI agents raided Taylor City Hall, Sollars’ home and vacation chalet.

Sollars was indicted in December 2019 on federal bribery and wire fraud charges and accused of helping Awad obtain city-owned properties in exchange for free work on his home and chalet, including hardwood floors, a humidor, appliances and more.

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In exchange, the mayor helped Awad’s real estate development company Realty Transition and other developers obtain dozens of tax-foreclosed homes in the city, prosecutors said.

Sollars received bribes, stole campaign contributions and tried to cover up the crimes, according to prosecutors, who accused the mayor of filing phony paperwork with state campaign finance officials.

Also Tuesday, prosecutors filed a new criminal case against West Bloomfield Township resident Hadir Altoon, who owns the Taylor party store Dominick’s Market along with two property development companies. Altoon, 49, whose home and store were raided in May 2019, was charged in a criminal information, which means a guilty plea is expected.

The Altoon case focuses on the city’s Right of First Refusal program, which lets developers acquire, redevelop and sell tax-foreclosed properties from the Wayne County Treasurer’s Office, including single-family homes and commercial buildings. Taylor had considerable control of the program, prosecutors said.

Sollars and Baum allegedly helped the developers and others obtain properties during a conspiracy from June 2017 until February 2019 that led the mayor to receive more than $80,000 in cash payments and $4,000 for Baum, according to the court filing.

Sollars gave Awad exclusive access to Taylor’s list of foreclosed properties so he could select the best properties before the list was made public, prosecutors said.

The bribes came in several forms, the government alleged.

Awad had Altoon charge about $19,000 through the party store to Awad’s credit card and give the cash to the mayor, according to the court filing. Altoon also allegedly gave cash to the mayor and Baum in exchange for receiving foreclosed properties.

Sollars’ campaign funds also played a role in the conspiracy, prosecutors said.

On Tuesday, Sollars’ lawyer pointed out one allegation that says Altoon gave Baum $5,000 cash in October 2018 for the mayor’s campaign golf event.

“There are other things within this information that we know are completely false,” Flood said. “There was never a golf outing in October.”

Baum was Sollars’ campaign treasurer. The mayor would have Baum and Altoon create phony catering invoices from the party store and pay with campaign checks, according to the government. Then, Altoon would allegedly cash the checks and give Sollars money along with scratch-off lottery tickets equal to the amount of the campaign checks.

That part of the conspiracy totaled more than $30,000, according to prosecutors. The campaign money was used for phony invoices for several events, including an employee holiday party, a 2017 Super Bowl party at City Hall and the 2019 State of the City event, the government alleged.

The mayor also obtained more than $12,500 by funneling campaign contributions through the party store for non-existent catering services, prosecutors alleged.

“At Sollars’ direction, Altoon cashed the donors’ checks and gave Sollars cash and/or scratch-off lottery tickets in the amount of the donors’ checks,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Dawn Ison wrote.

The developers turned cash bribes into real estate, according to the government.

Altoon gave Baum $4,500 in July 2018 as a reward for helping him obtain nine foreclosed properties, according to the government.

That month, the mayor told Altoon not to “spoil” Baum with “too large” kickbacks, prosecutors alleged.

The criminal filing charges Altoon with one count of bribery conspiracy. The charge is punishable by up to 10 years in federal prison.

Altoon’s lawyer, James C. Thomas, could not be reached Tuesday.

The 37-page Sollars indictment, meanwhile, chronicles a conspiracy spanning 2015-19, features incriminating text messages and allegations about secret payoffs that included a $1,600 humidor — which Sollars demanded be filled with Cuban cigars.

The 33-count indictment was unsealed 10 months after FBI agents raided Taylor City Hall and searched Sollars’ home and chalet in a series of daylight raids and seizures, including $205,993 found in the mayor’s house.

The indictment charges Sollars with crimes punishable by up to 20 years in federal prison. He is free on a $10,000 unsecured bond.

Sollars has said he will be cleared of all criminal charges. In an interview with The News this summer, Sollars said the raid at his home was “the day my life changed forever,” but he stressed he’s “confident the truth will prevail.”

Meanwhile, his political fortunes have faded. Sollars had to mount a write-in campaign for re-election last spring because he failed to file campaign finance statements or pay fines. He mounted an unsuccessful primary write-in campaign for a third term and is trying again in next month’s general election.

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